Life of Major General Henry Lee
Cecil B. Hartley
Lord Rawdon arrives at Ninety-Six—Pursues Greene, who retreats—Rawdon returns to Ninety-Six—Greene offers battle which is declined by Rawdon—Greene detaches Sumter, Marion, and Lee to the lower posts—Lee's success at Dorchester—Hampton's success—Sumter approaches Monk's Corner—Retreat of Coates—Lee charges and captures the British rear guard—Affair at Quinby bridge—Retreat of Coates—Separation of the partisan leaders—Eminent character and services of Lee and his Legion.
ON the morning of the 21st of June, Lord Rawdon arrived at Ninety-Six; and, on the evening of the same day, marched in quest of the American army. In the preceding operations of the campaign, he had felt the want of cavalry so severely that, while at Monk's corner, and in Charleston, he had formed a corps of one hundred and fifty horse.
Greene, foreseeing that his active adversary would avail himself to the utmost of his superiority, had sent his sick and wounded northward; and, as soon as Rawdon had crossed the Saluda, he retreated towards Virginia. Lord Rawdon pursued him to the Ennore, whence he returned to Ninety-Six.
The retreat ceased with the pursuit. General Greene halted near the cross roads, on the North of Broad river.
As Rawdon retired, he was followed close by Lee's legion as far as Ninety-Six, at which place he remained but two days. Still retaining the opinion that circumstances required him to contract his posts, he left the principal part of his army, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Cruger, to protect the loyalists while removing within those limits which were to be maintained by the British forces; and, at the head of less than one thousand men, marched in person towards the Congaree.
Supposing that his adversary intended to preserve the post at Ninety-Six, where the royalists were numerous, and to establish one or two on the Congaree, where provisions were more plentiful than in any other part of the state, Greene determined to interrupt the execution of the plan which he believed to have been formed. Leaving his sick and baggage at Wynnsborough, to be conducted to Camden, he marched with the utmost expedition for Friday's ferry on the Congaree, at which place Lord Rawdon had arrived two days before him. As Greene drew near to his enemy, a detachment from the legion under the command of Captain Eggleston, announced his approach by attacking a foraging party within a mile of the British camp, and bringing off a troop consisting of forty-five men, with their officers and horses. Rawdon retreated the next day to Orangeburg, where he formed a junction with a detachment from Charleston, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Stuart.
On the Congaree, Greene was reinforced by Sumter and Marion with about one thousand men; and, on the 11th of July, marched towards Orangeburg with the intention of attacking the British army at that place. He arrived there the next day, but found it so strongly posted as to be unassailable. He offered battle, but prudence restrained him from attacking the enemy in his camp.
At this place, intelligence was received of the evacuation of Ninety-Six, and that Lieutenant Colonel Cruger was marching down to Orangeburg. The north branch of the Edisto, which, for thirty miles, was passable only at the place occupied by Rawdon, interposed an insuperable obstacle to any attempt on Cruger; and Greene thought it most advisable to force the British out of the upper country by threatening their lower posts at Monk's corner, and at Dorchester. Sumter, Marion, and Lee, were detached on this service; and on the same day, Greene moved towards the high hills of Santee, a healthy situation, where he purposed to give some refreshment and repose to his harassed army, and where he hoped to be joined by a few continental troops and militia from North Carolina.
The detachments ordered against the posts in the north-eastern parts of the state, under the command of Sumter, were not so completely successful as their numbers, courage, and enterprise deserved. The several corps took distinct routes, intending to fall on the different posts between Ashley and Cooper rivers at the same time. That at Dorchester was broken up on the approach of Lee, who captured horses, military stores, and baggage to a considerable amount, and obtained some trivial successes over the flying enemy. Lieutenant Colonel Wade Hampton, of the State cavalry, fell in with a body of mounted refugees, dispersed the whole, and made forty or fifty prisoners.
Sumter advanced against Monk's corner. This post was defended by Lieutenant Colonel Coates with the 19th British regiment, and a troop of horse. He had taken possession of a brick church at a bridge over Biggin creek, the most northern of the water courses which form the west branch of Cooper river. After passing Biggin, the road to Charleston crosses first Wattoo, and then Quinby creek; neither of which are passable except at the bridges over which the road leads, and at a ferry over Quinby.
On the sixteenth, Sumter approached Monk's corner, but, not supposing himself strong enough to hazard an attack until all his detachments should be collected, sent a party to seize the bridge over Wattoo, and either to hold or destroy it. This party being attacked by a superior force, retired from the bridge without completing its destruction, and without informing Sumter that his orders had not been fully executed.
Marion had joined Sumter. Lee arrived late in the evening, and the resolution was taken to attack Coates early next morning.
In the course of the night he set fire to the church, in order to destroy the stores which were collected in it, and commenced his march to Charleston, by the road east of Cooper. Having repaired the bridge over Wattoo, he met with no obstruction; and proceeded with his infantry on the road leading to Quinby bridge, directed his cavalry to take the road turning to the right, and crossing the creek at the ferry.
About three next morning, the flames bursting through the roof of the church announced the retreat of the British; and the pursuit was immediately commenced. Sumter was preceded by the legion, supported by the State cavalry. A detachment from this regiment followed the British horse, in the vain hope of overtaking the troop at the ferry, while Lee pursued the infantry. Within a short distance of the bridge, which is eighteen miles from Monk's corner, he perceived the rear guard of the British, consisting of about one hundred men, commanded by Captain Campbell, which the cavalry charged sword in hand. They threw down their arms, and begged for quarter; upon which they were placed under the care of a few militia horsemen, and the American cavalry resumed the pursuit.
They had not proceeded far, when Lee was called to the rear, by information that the prisoners had been ordered to resume their arms. At this critical moment, Armstrong, at the head of the leading section, came in sight of Coates, who having passed the bridge, and loosed the planks, lay, unapprehensive of danger, intending to destroy it as soon as his rear guard should cross the creek. Armstrong, in obedience to orders, given in the expectation that he would overtake Coates before passing the creek, dashed over the bridge on the guard stationed at the opposite end with a howitzer, which he seized. In this operation, his horses threw off some of the loosened planks, and made a chasm, over which the following section, led by Lieutenant Carrington, leaped with difficulty. In doing this some other planks were thrown off, and the horses of the third section refused to take the leap. At this time Lee came up, and every effort was made to replace the planks, but without success. The creek was too deep and miry to afford foothold to those who attempted to raise them from the water.
This halt revived the courage of the British soldiers, who returned to the support of their commander, then engaged in an equal conflict with the cavalry who had passed the bridge. These gallant men finding themselves overpowered by numbers, and that their comrades could not support them, pressed over the causeway, and wheeling into the woods, made their escape.
After finding the impracticability of replacing the planks on the bridge, in attempting which, Doctor Irvin, surgeon of the legion cavalry, and several of the troopers were wounded, Lee withdrew from the contest, and moved some distance up the creek, to a ford where he was soon joined by the infantry of the legion.
Coates then completed the demolition of the bridge, and retired to an adjoining plantation, where he took possession of the dwelling house and out buildings that surrounded it.
As the Americans were obliged to make a considerable circuit, Sumter, who unfortunately left his artillery behind, did not arrive on the ground till three in the afternoon, and at four the house was attacked. The fire was kept up chiefly by Marion's division, from a fence near the house, till evening, when the ammunition was exhausted, and the troops were called off. In the course of the night, it was perceived that the loss had fallen almost entirely on Marion. Great discontent prevailed, and many of the men left him. The infection was communicated to Sumter's troops, and there being reason to fear the approach of Lord Rawdon, the enterprise was abandoned. Sumter crossed the Santee; and the legion rejoined the army, then encamped at the high hills of that river.
The intense heat of this sultry season demanded some relaxation from the unremitting toils which the southern army had encountered. From the month of January, it had been engaged in one course of incessant fatigue, and of hardy enterprise. All its powers had been strained, nor had any interval been allowed to refresh and recruit the almost exhausted strength and spirits of the troops.
The continued labors and exertions of all were highly meritorious; but the successful activity of one corps will attract particular attention. Lee's legion, from its structure, was peculiarly adapted to the partisan war of the southern states; and, by being detached against the weaker posts of the enemy, had opportunities for displaying with advantage all the energies it possessed. In that extensive sweep which it made from the Santee to Augusta, which employed from the 15th of April to the 5th of June, this corps, acting in conjunction, first with Marion, afterwards with Pickens, and sometimes alone, had constituted an essential part of the force which carried five British posts, and made upwards of eleven hundred prisoners. Lee, in the performance of these services, displayed a mind of so much fertility of invention and military resource, as to add greatly to his previous reputation as a partisan.
The whole army had exhibited a degree of activity, courage, and patient suffering, surpassing any expectation that could have been formed of troops composed chiefly of new levies; and its general had manifested great firmness, enterprise, prudence, and skill.[note 1]